King Willem-Alexander formally apologizes for Dutch history of slavery

NL –King Willem-Alexander apologized for the Netherlands’ role in the history of slavery in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark on Saturday. The Dutch king gave a speech on the occasion of the National Commemoration of Slavery Past. “Today I stand before you. Today, as your King and as a member of the government, I make this apology myself. And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and my soul.”

Late last year, Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on behalf of the Dutch state, and thus also on behalf of the king. The monarch echoed the apology, saying that “a start has been made” but also that “there is still a long way to go.”

In his speech, Willem-Alexander asked for “forgiveness.” The king said nothing had been “done” about slavery. “At a certain point you have a moral duty to act. All the more so considering that here, in the European Netherlands, slavery was strictly forbidden. What was thought normal in the colonies overseas – practised on a large-scale and encouraged, in fact – was not allowed here. That is a painful truth, ” he said. “But today, on this day of remembrance, I ask forgiveness for the clear failure to act in the face of this crime against humanity, ” Willem-Alexander emphasized in his speech.

The Dutch king went on to say that cohesion must grow in the Netherlands and that the different cultural backgrounds of people in the Netherlands must be respected. “That is why I would like to ask you; open your heart to all those people who are not here today, but who do want to work with you on a society in which everyone can fully participate. Respect that there are differences in experience, background and imagination.”

“During the conversations that the Queen and I have had with descendants of enslaved people, one of them said ‘We have to break free from the tightness. Making mistakes is allowed.’ Someone else said, ‘let’s embrace the discomfort.’ There is no blueprint for the process of healing, reconciliation and restoration. We are entering new territory together. Let’s support and hold each other!, ” Willem-Alexander stressed.

After apologizing, the Dutch king received loud applause and cheers, and someone in the audience shouted “Finally!” Queen Máxima, who was also present at the apology, was visibly moved. Many visitors were left speechless by the historic speech of the monarch. A few also commented.

“Wonderful and nice also that he spoke a few words Surinamese. I shed a tear,” said a woman who watched the king’s speech on a big screen. Another woman could not put her feelings into words because she was too emotional for that.

However, not everyone was thrilled. “The words don’t mean much to me. I want to see action first. Maybe it will mean something to me afterwards. It would have been nicer if the king had promised something concrete, or had already done so,” said another listener.

Recently, the past of slavery has been a regular topic for the royal house. Last year, for example, the Dutch king announced that he would not use the controversial golden carriage for the time being because of the colonial imagery on the carriage’s side panels. The past of slavery also received much attention during the Koningsdag in Rotterdam and during the visit of the royal couple and Princess Amalia to the Caribbean part of the Netherlands earlier this year.

Furthermore, an inquiry into the role of the House of Orange-Nassau in colonial history has been launched at the king’s behest. Professor Gert Oostindie started it at the end of 2022 and expects it to take three years